Winter 1992 // Volume 30 // Number 4 // To The Point // 4TP1

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Addressing Societal Issues

Extension should address those needs of the total population within its base of competence. Increased funding for educational programs will go to quality programs. I...believe the American people are willing and capable of funding education that addresses the societal issues most important to them.

Bernard M. Jones
Chair, Extension Committee
on Organization and Policy
and Dean and Director
Cooperative Extension
University of Nevada-Reno

Extension has a history of responding to the critical needs of society. The food and labor crises triggered by World War I and farm crises of the 1980s are two examples from a long list going back to the original concept of the land grant colleges and universities. During the last decade of this century, Extension will be challenged much more frequently to respond to broad societal needs. I'm confident Extension has the ability to respond effectively to the challenge.

Mission To Address Societal Needs

A mission serves as a statement of purpose. Our mission statement has several important parts, but the one I want to focus on first is "people." Contrary to what many believe, the land grant university mission wasn't narrowly focused on agriculture. The basic concept grew out of societal needs-needs of the people and the nation-just as the Cooperative Extension System mission is based on addressing the needs of the people. Extension won't have a great future if its primary objective is to focus only on the needs of about two percent of the population involved in production agriculture. Extension should address those needs of the total population within its base of competence, while continuing its concern for the issues facing the people who produce our food and fiber.

The Cooperative Extension System helps people improve their lives through an educational process that uses scientific knowledge focused on issues and needs. This mission is unique, as is the national Extension network that integrates programs and resources of federal, state, and county agencies. That partnership, within the Cooperative Extension System, offers more flexibility than most public-funded educational organizations, with minimum restrictions or mandates. This flexibility will be a tremendous asset for Extension in addressing societal issues.

Quality, Diversity, Planning, Partnerships

Quality is a common buzzword in higher education in the 1990s. Increased funding for educational programs will go to quality programs. How does Extension score on quality? We have many high quality Extension educational programs across America, but we also have some outdated programs. Most top quality educational programs involve a foundation of outstanding scholars. I believe on-campus and off-campus Extension faculty must be respected as scholars. Extension teachers or educators must be equals with the teachers in the classrooms of our major universities. Scholarly achievements will be a must for faculty developing Extension educational programs.

Diversity must improve in Extension. For quality educational programs, the cultural diversity of our faculty must more closely approximate the diversity of our students. Educational diversity of disciplines and of backgrounds must also improve. The Cooperative Extension System strategic plan for diversity is only the first step. The efforts of the National Extension Leadership Development program are providing next age leadership training that addresses diversity for future leaders. Extension must push for a more diverse organization by recruiting, training, and honoring diversity.

One of the most positive developments in Extension is a new commitment to planning. The formation of a Strategic Planning Council with a futuristic attitude is a necessity in dealing with the challenges confronting Extension. Most states have started a strategic planning process. Planning forces the organization to make tough decisions and establish priorities. If priorities are set by assessing the most critical needs of the people in each community, as well as state and national needs, and developing educational programs to address these needs, then funds for these programs will be available.

Extension in the 1990s must form partnerships outside Extension. In addressing critical concerns such as youth at risk or water quality, we should remember that we're not the only agency concerned with those issues. Extension must form coalitions at the local, state, and federal levels. In fact, we should provide the leadership in forming coalitions or partnerships with other agencies to address critical issues. These coalitions will help prevent duplication and maximize our efforts in meeting societal needs.

Funding the Future

The opportunity for funding Extension programs in the future is promising. I strongly and sincerely believe the American people are willing and capable of funding education that addresses the societal issues most important to them. Extension's recent success in funding youth programs is an example. Our greatest challenge will be to identify the most critical issues, while our greatest opportunity will be to obtain funding. Extension is the only organization I can think of that has public funding at the local, state, and federal level and also has access to private funds at each of these levels. We haven't been aggressive in seeking funds from the private sector.

I'm very optimistic about the future of an Extension System that aggressively addresses the critical issues of society. Futuristic planning with a broader vision of the real issues at the local level will greatly enhance our funding opportunities. Enhanced cultural diversity in people and programs, along with consistently high-quality educational programs, will make an Extension organization with a great history even greater in the 21st century.